Genesis 1, Pope Francis and Evangelicals

Pope Francis stimulated interest in Genesis 1 with his comments on the Big Bang and Evolution, especially among conservative Evangelicals. We tend to defend a more literal interpretation of Scripture and are a movement that highlights the centrality of the Word in our faith and practice, so some evangelicals are concerned that the Pope is compromising biblical authority.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the first sentence of the first book of the entire Bible. It establishes one of the first great truths God wants all of us to understand—that he created everything.

Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Does this describe the first condition of the earth after its creation? And what of the six days which follow in this first chapter? Do they describe the process of the original creation?

Note that in verse 1, the Bible highlights creation, where God created the heavens and the earth. Later verse 21 describes the creation of the animals, and verse 27, the creation of people. The Bible differentiates between the original creation of the earth and its subsequent reconstruction making it suitable for people. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the six days in this first chapter do not necessarily describe the original creation of the earth.

When verse 2 describes the earth as formless, empty and dark, it doesn’t mean that is the condition of the earth immediately following its initial creation. Actually, there is no way of knowing how many millions, or maybe billions, of years might have passed between verses 1 and 2. For us to assume that all God has ever done is create the universe, the animals and all of us is too limiting for the Eternal, Almighty God. He is God. This universe might just be one of his creations, and there are obviously mighty things he did before our Genesis account, and that he will do after the accounts in Revelation conclude. Remember he always has been and always will be. He was before the creation of the world as we know it, and will be long after we pass into eternity and the earth enters a new phase that is far beyond the final accounts in the book of Revelation. The Bible gives us an understanding of God as we need to know him for our salvation, so that revelation is not thorough in every other subject. We will all learn more when we step into eternity, and still more when we see him face to face.

The English Bible translators could have translated the third word in verse 2 “became.” “The earth became formless and empty, . . . “ The same Hebrew word is translated “became” in Genesis 2:7b where the Bible says, “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” In other places, translators use “and it came to pass” when translating this Hebrew word. So Genesis 1:2 could read, “And it came to pass that the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. . . “ That would have given the average English Bible reader a grid for understanding when visiting the Natural History Museum.

The first verse of Genesis simply states the fact of the original creation, and leaves it there, in the dateless past. Then verse 2 tells of the chaos which came to this earth later. And then the six days which follow describe the re-formation of the earth with a view of earth becoming the habitation for people having the history of which we have a biblical record.

When I was in high school, my pastor taught that scholars guessed regarding the cataclysm that disorganized God’s original creation between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. He called this the Gap Theory, and speculated that maybe some pre-Adamite rebellion of which we have no record, or maybe the judgment of Lucifer, and the angels that followed him, created the disorder described in Genesis 1:2. We don’t know, but if you are interested, study Isaiah 14:9-17, Jeremiah 4:23-27, and Ezekiel 28:12-18. These passages certainly communicate that much could have gone on during this period that may not be explained to us by God until eternity.

The Bible does not say evolution is impossible, and it’s within biblical parameters that there might have been several big bangs in the development of the universe, with more to come. During the first four days in Genesis 1, no creative acts are recorded. It’s only when we come to the animals and the human race that the Hebrew word for “create” is used. It is not a stretch that these six days give the account of a new beginning, but they are not necessarily the first beginning.

As a conservative Evangelical with a high view of Scripture, I believe the Pope might be right on this one, without compromising biblical authority.

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22 thoughts on “Genesis 1, Pope Francis and Evangelicals

  1. Sean grady says:

    Thank you for putting that so eloquently. I struggled for years to reconcile evolution with Genesis. I understand how this line of thinking falls in line with Gods word. Thank you for being our Pastor!

  2. dansbritton says:

    Pastor Ted, I highly recommend a look at Dr. Sarah Salviander’s site, http://www.sixdayscience.com. She is an astrophysicist and does a magnificent job explaining the six literal days of creation. Note I did not say the six 24-hour days of creation. And thank you for coining the phrase “Rational Charismatic.” I’ve already stolen it!

  3. Douglas Hugill says:

    However, God created this universe, solar system, earth and all of the intricacies associated with complex order………….not random chance, as is suggested by evolutionary thought. Evolution demands alignment with ideology believing that given enough time, random events come together to yield the order we see today. Entropy and the laws of thermodynamics suggest otherwise. Our God, being a God of order and not disorder, did not step back and oversee happenstance. On the contrary, through His infinite wisdom, carefully crafted the alignment of patterns of different cellular patterns that make our various organs and senses; spoke into being a mammals ability to hear incredibly soft sounds (orders of magnitude as low as ten millionth of a trillionth of a watt per square centimeter), at the same time see and mentally process luminous intensities relaying color, texture, depth that constantly change with quickly varying scenes. We just barely scratch the surface of understanding these concepts.
    Scientists do not understand in the least what causes gravity, the electromagnetic force, the strong and weak nuclear forces, that hold all of matter together……no, our Lord Jesus holds it all together. There is no big bang of matter flying apart from some central point at velocities approaching the speed of light that coalesces by forces that we cannot explain. For instance, all of matter is based on atoms having protons in their nucleus……protons repel each other. What holds these protons together (do not say subatomic particles, because scientists do not know what holds protons together). If we do not know the most basic of concepts that create order, then how can we argue for the order of a random chance universe. My God, Elohim…..Jeshua Ha Mashiah created it with meticulous order and detail, and holds all things together by the power of His Word.

  4. That being said, I need to share this and then let you decide. Read it in its’ entirety: http://www.biblehelp.org/7day.htm

    • Thank you Barbara, but as you might note, his entire premise is that everyone who does not hold to his view falls into two camps. I don’t. I believe the Bible is both inspired and inerrant, in it’s original writing, and should be taken literally except when it’s obviously not literal, like a figure of speech or an actual parable. And I believe the events of the seven days did, in fact, take place in seven day. I have no doubt or question about that. I am saying God created three times in Genesis 1, then during the seven days (actually six as noted in the article you reference) he prepared the world for us, but that doesn’t require that those six days are the days of creation, thus a biblical old earth. Worth noting: all of these discussions have been going on for thousands of years. They don’t impact the absolute fact that God is God, he alone created all, and that he sent his son, Jesus, to atone our sins. Thank you for writing. You are a blessing.

      • Thanks Ted. To quote, “Not all ‘Christians,’ however, believe in a literal 7-day creation. I have found that these Christians fall into two general groups.” What he is saying, and I know you know this, is that for those particular Christians, that do not believe in the 7-day creation, fall into two groups. However, I’m not one of those Christians in either of those groups because I believe in a literal 7-day creation. My faith is that if God says He created the world in seven days, I’m taking Him at His Word. God bless Ted. Thanks for the response. Blessings.

  5. I’m curious Barbara. Where does it say that?

    • The second and third paragraph state, “Not all ‘Christians,’ however, believe in a literal 7-day creation. I have found that these Christians fall into two general groups. The first group consists of people who do not believe God inspired the Bible. As a result, they do not believe it should be taken literally. They feel the stories in the Bible are fictitious and were written only to provide us with good teaching. These “Christians” tend to base their salvation more on good works and usually do not believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

      The second group consists of people who believe God inspired the whole Bible. They feel the Bible should be taken literally unless there is ample reason to believe the text was meant to be taken figuratively (like a parable). The people in this group have come to the conclusion that the creation account is one of those passages that should not be taken literally.”

      I could copy it all but then he continues with the next paragraph.

      • Barbara, I know this guy believes it. He believes the earth is 6,000 years old too. You said you were taking God at his Word. I know you believe this guy, but I don’t. I believe the Bible, not his particular interpretation. Where does the Bible say God created the world in seven days? I’m amazed how I quote the Bible, you quote this guy. You say you believe the Bible but don’t reference it, and you say you are speechless because of what I wrote, but you just quote an online Bible guy. You can do better than that, and you know, his premise that everyone who doesn’t agree with him has to fall into two camps is absurd. The body of Christ has many, many more views on Genesis 1 than that.

  6. I don’t believe this “guy” over the Word of God. What I do believe is that if God says, in His Word, that He created the Earth in seven days then I believe that literally. Regardless of what this “guy” says. I know people get angry and frustrated when they hear something that goes against what they truly believe but then we personally need to question that. The Bible says in Genesis 2:1-3, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the SEVENTH day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” I’ve done nothing BUT quote the Bible and I’ve been referencing it. I’m speechless because it is new teaching that you present. It’s almost a … pondering of sorts. I’ve never heard anyone since my salvation in 1992 have an open mind to the Big Bang or Evolution in this manner agreeing with the Pope. I’m actually shocked. I quote an “online Bible guy?” Some would come along and say the same about you, Ted, so I would be careful in that. This “guy” is a Christian correctional officer in the prison system and has done many wonderful things for the Lord. I can do better than that by just sharing what he as well as myself believes to be true? He never said that anyone that doesn’t agree with HIM personally has to fall into two camps. He’s just stating a fact. We have to be careful because if we don’t take literally the 7-day Creation then we won’t take literally the fact that Lazarus was raised in three days or that God actually parted the Red Sea for Moses or that Jesus walked on water, etc. I could go on and on. But actually I’m done. I literally believe that God created the Earth in seven days. I don’t agree with the Pope. I don’t even consider the fact that some explosive things took place in between Day 1 and Day 7. We’ll just leave it at that and agree to disagree and there’s nothing wrong with that. For me to try to convince you or for you to try to convince me, well, it’s a heart issue and something that the Holy Spirit can only reveal. I’m not saying that you’re better than me or that I’m better than you or anyone for that matter, I’m just saying that I believe the Word, not just this “guy” that Creation took place in 7 days. And honestly, if God said creation took Him 7 days but really it took a billion years, then he would be lying and deceiving us when He says that it actually took place in 7 in His Word.

    • Wow! That was a mouthful. Thank you for responding. As for me, I have been a pastor in local churches, under the authority of local church leadership, all of my adult life. I have been professionally paid by local churches and ministries of the church, para-church ministries, Christian publications and both Christian and secular schools to teach the Bible. And, even in the scandal years, no one questioned the integrity of my teaching.

      As for you never hearing of the Gap Theory, that simply means you have not been exposed to various teachings about Genesis 1. That is certainly no crime, but it’s important that you and all believers know that just because someone takes a more nuanced view of a theological construction does not mean that it brings into question other portions of Scripture or the essence of Scriptural integrity. I have maintained that there are absolutes in Scripture, interpretations of the Scripture, which might be wrong, but the absolutes are never wrong. Then we have deductions from Scripture, which have a greater likelihood of being wrong than an interpretation, which has a chance of being wrong, but the absolutes are never wrong. Then we have the personal preferences, cultural norms, etc. If a Bible teacher does not differentiate to students the difference between an absolute and an interpretation or deduction, or just a personal belief, then that teacher is doing their students a disservice.

      In my blog, I am very careful with the “might” and “may” and “theory” language. Your guy builds too much of his argument labeling and castigating those he disagrees with rather than just presenting what he believes to be true in a respectful way. So cool off Barbara. The absolute points of this passage is that God is, God created, and God is Lord. But don’t pull the “you believe the Word and I don’t” line, because it simply is not true. You need to read better material and listen to more qualified teachers, in my opinion.

      • I have never questioned your integrity. Where did you get that? The fact that you basically say, “Don’t you know who I am?!” really is disheartening. Ted, the Bible does not teach the “gap theory.” I read, ‘It is time for those who believe the Bible and in the goodness and wisdom of God to abandon the gap theory once and for all (as well as the day-age theory, which is even worse) and simply believe what God has said. The gap theory has NO scientific merit, requires a very forced Biblical exegesis, and leads to a God-dishonoring theology. It does not work, either Biblically or scientifically.” I won’t quote who said that because all you will see is the WHO of it and not what is actually written just like the “guy” in the link that I put in one of my comments. This “guy” speaks of quite simply black and white. There are no gray areas. Cool off? Is that the way a brother in the Lord talks to a sister in the Lord? Seriously Ted? I have been very cool in every one of my comments. It is you that has gotten upset and hot because of my questioning this gap theology that you present. I believe the Word and you don’t? Where did I say that? Wow. Ted. Again, I’m speechless. Not just with what you write but with how you’ve attacked me because I’ve questioned this “gap theory” of yours that is not biblical. Your responses have actually made me quite sad and this sadness is a spiritual sadness.

      • I’m sorry Barbara. It’s a theory, not even a theological construction. If God created the universe in 1 second, we could test it and it would probably test as old. So I’m not committed to this, and am pleased with the Scriptures as written, and I obviously misunderstood your tone. But note the quality of the other responses, some of which differ from me or further qualify my comments. Their tone seems in contrast to yours, but that’s ok. I’m still a fan of yours. And I still like you. Thank you for this exchange, but don’t be sad. Be glad. We are indeed a diverse body of believers.

  7. kgoosen7 says:

    I find this post Pastor Ted quite intriguing. First, I am a believer in the gap theory simply because when God said to “replenish” the earth he meant it. You cannot replenish something that had not previously been “plenished.” – I know it’s not a word but you get my point. Next, something surely happened between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth…who knows when that “beginning” was. Yet we skip to 1:2 and that earth was void and darkness hovered (paraphrased obviously). We know from the Word that God is not a God of chaos and certainly not of darkness and emptiness. So something happened in there, hence the gap theory. So anything during that unknown time frame is certainly possible. Lots of big bangs could have occurred, and this does not nullify the fact that God still created the heavens and the earth as spoken in 1:1. I think the term “evolution” is where Christians become defensive and upset. But frankly speaking evolution is simply a term that means “changing.” Humans actually evolve over a span of 50 plus years and more. I know I certainly don’t look like I did when I was 25, although I hope in Heaven that’s the body I get! Did we come from monkeys? No, we are created in the image of God and I highly doubt he is a monkey. If we were evolved from monkeys there should still to this day be humans that are evolving and look half monkey and half human. My question would be what EXACTLY is the pope trying to say with his message? And Pastor Ted in your statement you state that the “Bible doesn’t say evolution is impossible”. Would you clarify that? Of course it does not negate the effects of change which naturally occurs over time, but it clearly states that humans are created beings. Correct me if I’m wrong. Blessings!
    Karen G

  8. Aaron says:

    Ted, I am glad to see that you have posted this. As a Theistic Evolutionist I find many evangelicals hostile to this particular point of view. How God went about creating the universe is not a salvation issue and most certainly does not limit or diminish His power.
    Gap Theory is very interesting and was something I noticed on my own as a teen, it wasn’t until my 20s that I heard further about it.
    Another thing to point out for the 7-day literalists is that remember the Bible you are reading is translated into English, the original Hebrew used for the word most translations put in as “day” is “yom”…Yom is used elsewhere in the Old Testament and it rarely is translated as a literal day outside of Gen 1. Rather, yom is a broad term meaning a period of time….hours, days, weeks or even years. Day is chosen by translators purely out of traditional and style reasons, not because it is the perfect word to use. Here’s a good review of the word: http://www.oldearth.org/word_study_yom.htm

    Thanks for talking about this!

  9. Carsten says:

    This is a thought provoking commentary which could be a credible understanding of creation. The main thing is that we

  10. Carsten says:

    This is a thought provoking commentary which could be a credible understanding of creation. The main thing is that we focus on the fact that God can form the world by His own choosing. The objection to evolutionary theory from an evangelical view is that God is left out as the prime mover. The method and time table are secondary theological concerns. The answer to the debate may be “how the contemporaries of Jesus day understood creation” which was probably the closest understanding of the truth since Jesus didn’t find it necessary to bring correction to their understanding.

  11. Ted, what do you do with Exodus 20:11? “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” This seems, to me (who used to subscribe to a “Gap” theory) to directly contradict your statement, ” It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the six days in this first chapter do not necessarily describe the original creation of the earth.” What the verse in Exodus plainly does not say is that a “re-formation” of the original “heaven and earth” was “created” in six days. There are two cardinal theological premises that I believe debunk the ruin-reconstruction view of Genesis 1: #1, the plain truth that by Adam’s sin evil was ushered into the world (Rom. 5:12). And #2: We cannot interpret scripture on the basis of man’s thoughts or words (science, in this case). “God is his own interpreter, and He will make it plain”. (I Cor 2:4-10) The obvious danger in introducing a possible “harmony” between man’s fallible ideas (and evolutionary theory and dating of fossils by the rocks and rocks by the fossils are very fallible) is in ignoring the plain sense of what God has spoken in order to make it harmonize with current theories of men. There are many very able men of God who are also highly qualified in science who have examined gap theory. (see https://answersingenesis.org/genesis/gap-theory/ for resources).
    Lastly, textually, the gappist must rely on a tenuous assumption that the Hebrew should be translated “became”, and that a “without form and void” with “darkness on the face of the deep” describes some chaotic condition into which evil of some kind has insinuated itself. However, a plainer reading of the text itself (comparing scriptures like Ex 20:11 to aid in the interpretation) shows just that God created the basic universe and immediately (all within the six days) began forming it into something “very good”.
    Though we may disagree on this point and still walk together before the Lord, I fear that the whole principle of “reconciling” the Bible with science teaches the weaker Christian that his faith must “fit” with what is accepted by man at best, and at worst overthrows the faith of some who conclude that either God’s Word cannot be fully trustworthy or that they can not ever be certain of truth because of being “unqualified”.
    As a “by the way”, the whole premise of historical science is fallacious, and is actually plainly spoken of in scripture in 2 Pet 3:2-6. I speak of the uniformitarian premise that “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation,” also referred to by scientists “the present is the key to the past”. But Peter directly contradicts this premise by introducing, not a pre-Genesis 1:3 divine intervention, but by the flood of Noah. Man cannot by the scientific method of observation in the present make absolute statements about a past in which he was not present. We rely on revelation for that account, not the scoffers who introduced this principle to the modern world.

  12. Roy says:

    As a Christian believer and engineer I knows the science and the physics. Any apparent gap between recent scientific discoveries and Genesis account of creation is simply a result of not knowing science and not knowing scripture. The science directly points to the awesomeness of creation. I strongly believe that the recent science not only supports but confirms the Genesis account.
    If this blows your mind I challenge you to pray and think about it and He will provide you the answers. 🙂

  13. SarahS says:

    Brother Ted….I’m a Catholic and when i converted 3 yrs ago accepting the idea that my new faith was open to evolution as a creative force used by God was a bigger hurdle to my previous YEC mindset than any Marian dogma. It kind of rocked my world. But opening my mind and taking a more objective look at the science made me a better person. Thank you for this article! ! It blesses me when God gives His body humility to say, maybe I was wrong. It isn’t required of us as Catholics to deny literal days or a young earth. But it isn’t required we hold to that either. I personally appreciate that freedom. Maybe one day there will be sufficient evidence to make firmer statements but as of now, there isn’t. It shouldn’t be a salvation issue or even a fellowship breaker.

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